How To Choose The BEST Wood Burning Stove
Local dealer or big box store? Cast iron or welded steel? Top, front, or side load? Size, capacity, durability, burn time, log length, firebox orientation. There are many important factors to take into account, but the environment must be our first consideration. Wood is a renewable resource, clean air is not, especially without trees! This is why it's important to talk to an expert at an experienced local dealer. Before you take a trip over to your local stove dealer, we'll help point you in the right direction with some need to know information.
First, you will want to choose a stove that was manufactured by a company with at least 10 years experience in business, as this will help to ensure you will always have access to repair service and replacement parts. It is always less expensive to repair than to replace. Your best bet, find a reputable dealer near you. The dealers' usually have experienced service technicians on staff to assist you with proper care and maintenance of your next hearth assembly. Typically the dealers' service technicians are only experts of their stores brands. You may have a difficult time repairing and you will spend a lot more money just throwing parts at a random off brand unit. You might save initially when you purchase a generic hearth product but, when you cannot locate parts for the hunk of tin, your only option is to remove the entire unit and have a new and efficient stove installed by a well seasoned, licensed professional.
Remember, old iron breaks, it doesn't bend. Cast iron and welded steel will both fail eventually, the cast iron stoves internal seals must be maintained or too much oxygen will be introduced to the firebox, thus causing temperatures to exceed specifications and over firing occurs. Welded steel stoves are also prone to this same type of problem, only it is typically the welds that fail and allow excess oxygen into the firebox. When looking at a welded wood burning steel stove, pay close to attention to the weld locations and also the precision of the weld beads. Are the welds uniform? What parts are welded and when will they have to be replaced.
Consider the changing government regulations (which may or may not currently apply to your location). As of May 15, 2015 Step 1 of the EPA's mandatory smoke emission limit states that certified catalytic wood burning stoves must not produce more than 4.5 grams of particulate matter per hour or (7.5 g/h for non-catalyst). On May 15, 2020 Step 2 of the revised standards of performance for wood burning room heaters will take effect and the 4.5 grams per hour will be reduced to 2.0 g/h. Over the years stove manufacturers have improved the combustion technologies, and the most efficient stove models have certified emissions as low as 1 g/h. This will assist you when completing your wood stove competitive analysis as a lower g/h rating means a more efficient wood stove, thus less time spent loading and cleaning. To find the EPA certification label, check the back of any stove, you may also find safety labeling by Underwriters' Laboratories (U.L., or ULC) or another testing and certification body.
The most inefficient, un-certified wood burning stoves may release up to 15-20 grams of particulate matter per hour into the atmosphere. (you will be loading and cleaning these inefficient stoves several times each day) The higher efficiency is achieved through two types of combustion methods, catalytic and noncatalytic. The performance differences vary based on technologies used, both re-burn methods will require maintenance and repairs. On the non-catalytic models, the baffle deteriorates just as the catalytic system's honeycomb degrades over time. Catalytic type systems are slightly more complicated to operate properly and one must pay closer attention to wood quality/moisture content. The higher the wood stoves efficiency, the longer the burn time, and the longer the burn time the less work for you.
Let us move on to the different types loading methods. Although, today's most efficient wood burners only have to be loaded twice a day or every 12-14 hours, consider the loading/cleaning processes and how they should be as simple as possible. There are top loading, side loading, front loading, north south or east west orientations available. In addition, some units even have multiple loading options. Another great feature regarding firebox orientation is having the ability to stack the logs north south, which allows you to fill the firebox more completely without fear of the stacked logs rolling forward. Top loading is an ergonomic feature that helps to eliminate the bending and kneeling. Having multiple loading options saves wear and tear on you and the wood burning stove. With so many options available in today's market you will find it helpful to visit a stove shop, walk around and try the different stoves. When you visit, check out the door (or doors), turn the knobs, hear the blower noise level, etc. You may even get to see the units function, or you can ask for a test fire. Please keep in mind the unit may perform differently in your home as many variables affect fireplace performance such as elevation, negative pressure, flu height, building envelope location, and so forth.
After deciding the re-burn system type, loading and heat transfer methods, the focus shifts from performance and functionality, to appearance. Welded steel is more affordable ,but cast iron offers more decorative appeal options with intricate relief designs and even luxurious enamel finishes. (enamel finishes do tend to chip easily). Cast iron also offers the convenience of food cooking and warming options. Soapstone panels are added to cast or welded steel stoves to slowly radiate heat, but be aware that this style of wood stove heats up slower. One could create a similar effect with a stone hearth or masonry wall behind the stove.
Now that you've read this article, you'll have all the knowledge needed to speak the lingo when shopping at your local stove dealer. Remember, both the environment and humans will benefit in the long run if we take the time to thoroughly investigate efficiency ratings before purchasing a wood stove.